Outrage in Latin America. While in Vienna, Morales met with Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
Rumors that U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden hitched a ride on the Bolivian presidential jet forced the plane’s grounding in Austria and sparked outrage in several South American countries.
The drama unfurled when Portuguese authorities wouldn’t let Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane land in Lisbon for refueling while on his way back from Russia, Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra told CNN en Español.
France, Spain and Italy also wouldn’t let the plane enter their airspace, Bolivian officials said. Such restrictions would cut off any direct path from Austria to Bolivia.
“We are told that there were some unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on the plane,” Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said.
“We do not know who has invented this lie. Someone who wants to harm our country. This information that has been circulated is malicious information to harm this country.”
Late Wednesday morning, Spain agreed to let Morales’ plane to stop in the Canary Islands on its way home, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said.
Morales’ plane took off from Vienna shortly afterward, the Austrian Interior Ministry said. But by that time, he had spent more than 10 hours in Vienna.
Austrian officials made a voluntary check of Morales’ plane and confirmed that Snowden was not on board, Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said.
While in Vienna, Morales met with Austrian President Heinz Fischer and said he was “surprised by his solidarity.”
“His presence means a lot. Neither Bolivia nor its president commits erroneous crimes,” Morales told Bolivian state-run TV. “I am respectful of international laws, and the presence of the president strengthens me.”
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera described Morales as a “hostage of imperialism.”
“The president has been kidnapped by imperialism, and he is being held in Europe,” he said in a televised address late Tuesday night. The vice president called for workers worldwide to protest “this act of imperial arrogance.”
The situation drew a swift rebuke from Ecuador’s foreign minister, who told reporters he planned to call a regional meeting of the Union of South American Nations, known as UNASUR, to discuss it.
“We consider this a huge offense, and I will call for a UNASUR special summit with foreign secretaries to discuss this issue,” Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the incident. “This constitutes an unacceptable, unfounded and arbitrary act which offends all of Latin America and the Caribbean,” the ministry said in a statement.
The situation is the latest twist in what has become a global guessing game over Snowden’s next steps.
Snowden has admitted leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs and faces espionage charges in the United States. He has applied for asylum in 21 countries, including Bolivia.
Morales, a left-leaning president who has long criticized the United States, had been attending a conference of gas-exporting countries in Russia, where he told the Russia Today news network that he would be willing to consider asylum for Snowden.
But Bolivian officials stressed that accusations that an official aircraft would harbor Snowden were baseless.